Demo Day at the Simeone Automotive Museum: June 25, 2016

Red Italian cars rule
Red Italian cars rule

The Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum, located in Philadelphia PA, is far from your typical car museum. There are several attributes which contribute to its uniqueness. First, the cars in the collection are almost exclusively race cars, further specializing in “sports cars” which have been or could be used as dual-purpose road/race cars. Next, the museum practices preservation over restoration, believing that they have an actual duty to preserve and maintain these vehicles in their “as found” condition.

Last, Dr. Fred Simeone and his staff regularly exercise all the cars in the collection, and to that end, they invite the public to attend “Demo Days” to witness the running of the cars. The popularity of these has led to an expansion of Demo Days from once a month to twice a month. Saturday June 25 was such a Demo Day, and several friends and I found ourselves there to observe the goings-on.

While not a V12, 308 is stunning '70s shape
While not a V12, V8-powered Ferrari 308 is stunning ’70s shape

Each Demo Day has a theme: for our visit, it was “cars with 12-cylinder engines”. Demonstration runs are held behind the museum in a paved lot, several acres in size, and the crew brought out their Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa, Bizzarrini Spyder, Auburn V12 Speedster, and Alfa Romeo Tipo 33. Several other cars likely belonging to customers, including a Ferrari 308GTS and a Mercedes Benz AMG GT-S, were also on hand. There is no need here to delve into the history of each vehicle; for further reading I refer you to the museum website and/or Google. Below, we will cover each vehicle chronologically, providing comments on observed features.

 

THE 1933 AUBURN V12 SPEEDSTER

The Auburn is gorgeous from any angle
The Auburn is gorgeous from any angle

This stunning shape startles you when you realize that this car was designed in the early 1930s. You are again startled when you note that this magnificent V12 was sold during the Great Depression. This is clearly a vehicle which represents form over function. The massive cast-iron engine must give it terrible weight distribution; there is tight seating for only two adults; and there is no luggage space to speak of. However, if style and speed were your only objectives, and money was no object, in 1933 this was one of the ones to have.

 

THE 1958 FERRARI TESTA ROSSA

Perfection can be so simple
Perfection can be so simple

The shape of this sheetmetal is so pure, so perfect, yet so simple, it would be impossible to improve upon it. Note the front turn signals; unobtrusive but functional, you could take this grocery-shopping and be able to legally signal your lefts and rights. The Ferrari 12 cylinder engine, fed by three Webers, is mechanical design taken to perfection. And allow us to point out the passenger seat, if you’re so inclined to invite someone special along for the ride (NOT that there wouldn’t be a line of volunteers).

 

THE 1965-1967 BIZZARRINI P538 SPYDER

Bizzarrini looks almost two-dimensional from this angle
Bizzarrini looks almost two-dimensional from this angle

Almost all Bizzarrinis were powered by Chevrolet V8 engines. However, two of the four P538 Spyders built were equipped with Lamborghini V12s.  Photos do not do justice in trying to convey the lowness of this car. It comes up to about your knees. It is unimaginable how the V12 fits in there. This is a rare Bizzarrini, and its looks and performance will give almost any Ferrari a run for its money.

THE 1975 ALFA ROMEO TIPO 33 TT 12

The shape screams '70s race car
The shape screams ’70s race car

By the 1970s, aerodynamics played a much larger role in the design of racing machines. This Alfa distinguishes itself from its Demo Day company by its squared-off shape. It’s the opposite of the Auburn in that it’s all function over form. Note the protruding front spoiler, flat vertical sides, and tall rear view mirror. Unlike the other V12s out in the back lot, this Alfa has a flat-12, which of course contributes to a low center of gravity.

Same Alfa badge as found on any of their sedans
Same Alfa badge as found on any of their sedans

 

Seeing and hearing these cars run brings them to life; after all, cars were built to be driven. Better still, it transfers the museum experience from a dusty display of decay to an immersion in living and breathing history.

Demo Days at the Simeone are recommended for anyone who wants more than static displays. It is a trend we hope becomes contagious at other automobile museums around the country.

 

All photographs copyright © 2016 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

 

 

Simeone Museum Presents: “Preserving Shelby Cobra Daytona CSX2287”

On Saturday, December 12, 2015, the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum in Philadelphia PA hosted a special “Preservation Workshop”, featuring the Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe (serial number CSX2287) owned by the Foundation. The gist of the presentation was that, after this vehicle spent some 30-odd years languishing in hidden storage, it was acquired by the Foundation and brought back to running, driving condition. The work to accomplish that goal was considered “preservation” and “conservation”, not “restoration”, in an attempt to keep the car as original as possible.

The star of the show awaits its start
The star of the show awaits its start

This particular vehicle is one of only 6 Cobra Daytona Coupes built, and on that basis alone, it is an historically important vehicle. However, CSX2287 is also the first Daytona Coupe built, and the only one constructed entirely in the U.S. Most infamously, it has a long and convoluted ownership history (including, for a short time, serving as daily driver for the music producer Phil Spector). No attempt will be made here to delve into this history, about which much has been written elsewhere. Instead, this blog entry will summarize the workshop presentation, which was fascinating both for its detail as well as some of its controversial “conservation” decisions. For those interested, the Foundation’s website has this information on the car: http://www.simeonemuseum.org/the-collection/bonneville-salt-flats/1964-shelby-cobra-daytona-coupe


The event started promptly at its scheduled time of 12 noon, with about 150-175 people in attendance. After the briefest of introductions, the mic was handed to Dr. Fred Simeone, who spoke while clicking through Power Point slides on a large screen at the front of the room. The Belle of the Ball, the car itself, sat on the floor, roped off from groping hands.

Dr. Fred Simeone works the crowd
Dr. Fred Simeone works the crowd

The good doctor proved himself to be knowledgeable, well-spoken, interesting, and occasionally amusing. One got the sense while listening to him that he was actively involved in the car’s refurbishment. He may not have literally had his hands on components (indeed, he informed us that the work was performed by a restoration shop in Georgia), but he likely was helping to make key decisions.

The slide presentation began with the history of CSX 2287: its creation and racing exploits. Again, there is no need to cover that here. The Foundation purchased the car in the early 2000s, and since one of their goals is to maintain all vehicles in running condition, work started to make it a driver again. A rotisserie was constructed, with mechanical systems (fuel, suspension, brakes, etc.) disassembled and carefully documented and photographed. Various methods were employed to remove dirt, scale, and rust, while preserving whatever original finishes might be found. In this way, the original black paint on the tube frame was saved; so were factory markings on the engine, cooling system, even the hardware. Rubber fuel lines, obviously corroded to nothingness after such a long time, were replaced as a necessary safety matter. However, the metal ends were reused, a painstaking and more expensive approach, but one which preserved what could be saved. Almost every piece of hardware was cleaned and reused. In cases where worn parts were replaced (wheel bearings), the originals were kept and stored away.

As Yogi might have said: "Carroll must have signed it while he was still alive"
As Yogi might have said: “Carroll must have signed it while he was still alive”

The engine, not original to the car (Shelby American installed a “spare” Hi-Po 289 into it when they sold it to a private individual in the late ‘60s), was determined to have relatively few miles on it. One controversial decision was to NOT rebuild the engine, for as far as anyone knew, there was nothing wrong with it! In fact, Dr. Fred stated that the ONLY reason the engine was removed from the frame was to replace a seeping freeze plug, a job which could not be done with the engine in situ.

The photos below reveal that the body and paint on this Shelby were decidedly not restored. This of course, was also controversial, for several reasons. The first and most obvious is that in this hobby, “refurbished” cars are not just mechanically corrected; they are cosmetically returned to their most glamorous state. The controversy is further fueled by Pete Brock, this vehicle’s original designer. He has made it publicly known that in his opinion, the only correct “restoration” of CSX2287 is to remove its hood scoops and rear spoiler (which were added while the vehicle was competing in real races), and to repaint it in the original (lighter) shade of blue which it wore in 1964. Dr. Simeone was not shy in stressing that while he respects Pete, he disagrees with him.

As mentioned earlier, Dr. Fred was far from boring during the hour+ he held the mic. Some of his memorable quotes from the day include:
• “A car that doesn’t run isn’t a car. It’s a statue.”
• “Restoring a car for Pebble Beach does nothing for its conservation. All it does is make you eligible to win a plastic trophy.”
• (Quoting Carroll Shelby, who was trying to negotiate the repurchase of the Daytona coupe from the woman who hid it away for 30 years): “The bitch would only talk to me through the screen door”.
• “Watch out if you disagree with Pete Brock. First he’ll argue his case with you, and when he’s done, he’ll sic his wife on you”.

Floor poster sums up an incredible history
Floor poster sums up an incredible history

This concept of keeping original cars original is not new to CSX2287. Those in the old car hobby began to notice a hard right turn in that direction within the last decade or so. Recent auction results around the globe have shocked onlookers by repeatedly proving that “barn finds” in some cases fetch more money than 100-point restorations. The Simeone Automotive Foundation, in 2012, published a book “The Stewardship of Historically Important Automobiles” which draws parallels between art and furniture collections (which pieces would never be stripped of their finishes) and automobile collections.

Hood up so the battery could be connected

Hood up so the battery could be connected

The book does make the distinction (as Dr. Fred did today) that the concept of preserving what is original is not intended for every “Model A and Mustang out there”. Some astute writers have noted that compared to an oil portrait or a desk, a functioning automobile has moving parts which are designed to become worn, deteriorated, and consumed. Eventually, the entire vehicle is discarded. Therefore, for many vehicles selected for the restoration process, there is no choice but to completely renew all their components.

 

After an hour of the slide presentation and audience Q & A, the Daytona Coupe was started and allowed to idle for a minute. Slow to crank, it fired up on the second try. Expecting a cacophonous roar, the vehicle sounded docile at idle. While never to turn a wheel in anger again, this simple demonstration helped prove that the preservation efforts accomplished their intended goal.

A final note about this particular car and the maturing of the old car hobby concerns the National Historic Vehicle Register, overseen by the U.S. Department of the Interior. The National Historic Register has been awarding “historic status” to buildings and other architecture in this country for decades. Recently, it was proposed to extend such recognition to automobiles. This Shelby Cobra Daytona CSX2287 is the first such vehicle recognized, a massive accomplishment, and one that signifies that not only is the old car hobby alive and well, it is growing in important ways.

Comments concerning “restoration” versus “preservation“ are invited.

 

The car and the HVA plaque
The car and the HVA plaque

 

All photographs copyright © 2015 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.